Saturday, May 01, 2004

Highway To The Danger Zone

(This was supposed to post yesterday, I'm not sure what happened. Anyway, apologies and on with the show.)

James Taranto is peddling this tripe about John Kerry over on Opinion Journal, and Howie "Putz" Kurtz repeats it here:

His [Kerry's] Vietnam record was supposed to be his greatest asset, but instead it has turned into a political liability. Why did that happen? Here's our explanation:

He talked about Vietnam entirely too much.

This has become a fast favorite for conservative pundits. Tucker Carlson brought it up Thursday on Crossfire, and Jonah Goldberg cried foul yesterday on American Morning.

GOLDBERG: Yes, although I got to say, the reason that Vietnam is an issue, is because John Kerry continually makes it an issue. He campaigns on his campaign record. He uses it in ads. He goes around with his band of brothers, who 30 years ago, he called war criminals, and then make an issue of Bush's service during Vietnam. They're the ones making an issue, so Republicans are arguing back.

Republicans are not arguing back, sir. This began exactly one year ago, when Secretary of Genius Karl Rove, gone mad with power, allowed George Bush to land a jet on an aircraft carrier in the most made-for-TV stunt in presidential history. It not only signaled the direction of the 2004 Bush campaign, but also served as a figurative "shot across the bow" of his Democratic challengers.

The message: “Not only is this president strong on defense, damn it, he's got a bond with the military that you jealous, liberal-elites could never have.”

Last May, the right was all too happy to recite this song and dance routine. Here’s Mr. Goldberg himself, from the May 9, 2003 edition of American Morning:

GOLDBERG: Democrats are only pissed off because it was successful.

Tucker and Jonah’s colleagues over at Fox went so far as to cite examples to drive this point home. So eager were they to contrast Bush to the democratic presidential candidate that, lacking one, they stacked his “military authority” up against that of Bill Clinton and Michael Dukakis.

This is a rather long exchange between Brit Hume and former Reagan communications staffer, Eric Dezenhall, from last May. (Fox News Special Report With Brit Hume, 05.07.03)

HUME: What here has the Democrats so upset?

DEZENHALL: That it worked. Bush's landing on the aircraft carrier was effective. This is a man who -- a president who is absolutely comfortable with military power, and the exercise of it. When you are supposed to be ashamed of it, he's not. The best crisis management response he could give, is not only did I do it. But I would do it again. And this is what presidents do, they land on aircraft carriers to send signals of confidence to a military that did a good job.

HUME: Now, this is not the first photo opportunity that we have seen, or event that embodied within it that we've seen, a pretty major photo opportunity that we've seen in which a presidential figure, or presidential candidate donned military garb, and rode in a piece of military equipment. We recall also famously the Michael Dukakis tank situation. Michael Dukakis had served in the Army and he had every reason, if he wanted to check out military equipment, to put on the necessary helmet, and ride in a tank. That went badly. This went well. What's the difference?

DEZENHALL: The difference is your own personal authority. And it is absolutely plausible when George Bush gets out of a fighter jet in the helmet, and walks on the aircraft carrier, it is consistent with what we believe to be true about him. In 1993, when Bill Clinton took a helicopter out to an aircraft carrier, and began talking the lingo of fighter pilots, there was a lot of eye rolling, because everybody knew that Clinton was not a pro-military guy. It was simply not plausible. It looked like a photo op. But with Bush, it's what you expect and this is what a victorious president does.

Sean Hannity also couldn’t wait to compare victorious Bush to one of those softy “Dems.” With a candidate yet to be named, he followed the lead of pal Brit Hume and turned to that old conservative standby, Bill Clinton.

HANNITY: We've got to take a break, but the fact is Clinton would never have been greeted that way by the military. And he just won a war, and he is the commander-in-chief and that's what got you -- has gotten you guys so mad.

Looking back on the carrier-landing and the weeks that followed, the lack of foresight shown by Republicans is staggering, especially from those in the White House. They were so certain Bush would possess the dominant military credentials in the coming election, they allowed for transparent grandstanding on the part of the President of the United States.

Unthinkable is that none of the President’s handlers considered how this stunt would look if the war in Iraq turned for the worse. Equally astonishing, is how no one foresaw that a candidate with real military experience, like Kerry, would make the flight-suit clad Bush look foolish in comparison.

Could that be at the heart of this conservative outrage over Kerry’s service in Vietnam? Could it be that the right, which has always claimed superiority on military issues, is now facing an opponent whose military credentials far outshine those of their own candidate?

Maybe Republicans aren’t mad that John Kerry talks about Vietnam. As Jonah Goldberg would put it, maybe they’re just pissed because he was so successful.